The Full Story of the Mercedes-Benz 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe

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By Ben Selby

If you know classic cars, chances are you know the 1955 Mercedes 300 SLR Uhlenhaut Coupe. You are also probably aware this one-of-two ever built unicorn changed hands for a mind- boggling $142 million US ($220.4 million NZ).

The buyer, an anonymous but we can safely assume a very wealthy, car collector who was able to secure the winning bid for the car at an exclusive private auction at the Mercedes-Benz Museum in Stuttgart.

The sale was the result of close to two years effort by the buyer through renowned classic car market expert Simon Kidston and the proceeds will be used by the Mercedes-Benz charity fund to assist young people and further research into decarbonization.

So, what is it about this Mercedes and why is it now worth many many millions? The answers can be found when we have a look at the man who designed it, Rudolph Uhlenhaut. From a young age, Uhlenhaut developed a keen interest with all things mechanical. After finishing his schooling in Bremen, he studied engineering at the Technical University of Munich.

In 1931, he started to work for Mercedes-Benz and became head of the racing department in 1936. It was during these pre-war years at Mercedes which allowed Uhlenhaut to fully utilize his potential not only as an engineer, but also as a driver.

Rudolf Uhlenhaut

To combat the threat of Germany’s other Grand Prix Silver Arrow, Auto Union, he heavily tweaked the Mercedes W25 into the W125. This allowed Mercedes’ star driver of the time, Rudolph Caracciola to be crowned European champion in 1937.

During the war he worked for Daimler-Benz designing components for aircraft engines. After hostilities had ended, Unhlenhaut founded a trucking business using gas powered ex-army trucks to transport goods. Fast forward to 1948 and Uhlenhuat was back at Mercedes and by 1952, had designed the W194 “300SL” sports car. This of course led to what many describe as one of the most beautiful road cars ever, the 300SL Gullwing.

300 SLR driven by Stirling Moss/Denis Jenkinson

He also tested every racing car and despite never competing, gained a reputation as being very quick even beating lap times set by Juan Manuel Fangio himself. Uhlenhaut’s biggest project came with the now legendary W196S 300SLR which Stirling Moss and Denis Jenkinson used to win the 1955 Mille Miglia.

The SLR also clinched victories at the Ulster TT and that year’s Targa Florio. However, the 300 SLR’s darkest hour was at Le Mans in 1955 where Mercedes driver Pierre Levegh hurtled into the crowd killing 80 spectators. This further prompted team manager Alfred Neubauerr to withdraw Mercedes from international motorsport, a decision made early in the season, at the end of that year.

Prior to this, Uhlenhaut had secured two of the nine W196S chassis built to build road legal versions of 300SLR. Hence, the 300SLR “Uhlenhaut” Coupe was born. With a widened and lengthen body, it retained the gullwing doors from the 300 SLR. Underneath, it was all race car, retaining the 2.5L straight eight with 228kW and 311Nm of torque. Top speed was rated at 290km/h, making the Uhlenhaut Coupe the fastest car of its day.

The coupe was planned to contest the 1955 Carrera Panamericana in Mexico. This event was stopped after the Le Mans disaster that year. Instead, Uhlenhaut used it as his daily car. Although he had to install a large exhaust silencer so he didn’t deafen his neighbours on his way to work. It is also said that Uhlenhaut drove the Coupe from Munich to Stuttgart for a meeting. Except he was running late so he managed the 227km trip in just one hour.

Uhlenhaut with his Coupe

Uhlenhaut passed away in 1989. His two coupes were offered for sale but amazingly, there were no takers. Many at the time didn’t think they were worth anything! As a result, Mercedes held on to his two coupes. Today, one resides in the Mercedes Benz Museum. The other now is the care of a very wealthy individual who plans to display the car on special events.

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